Lily carried six of the metal rods she had made over her left shoulder, her right arm outstretched. Iris, Tate and Prei all reached out and grabbed her metal arm, holding on tightly. Confirming that she was in contact with all three of them, Lily focused on the <> on her finger and intoned,
The familiar light enveloped the four girls, wrapping around them, depositing them in the large, barren section of the forest. While they had set out for the Wasteland in the earlier hours of the afternoon, the forest was now enshrouded in the darkness of night, the weak moonlight casting a pale glow on the ground. Having just exited a realm of perpetual unnatural light, the sudden darkness blinded Lily and Tate. They rapidly blinked, trying to get used to the dark. Prei seemed unaffected. After several moments, their eyes had adjusted somewhat, allowing them to see silhouettes and shapes. Within the clearing, the brightest objects were undoubtedly Iris’ eyes, which were shining a luminescent green, indicating that she had activated her night vision.
Lily unceremoniously dropped the rods of metal on the ground, resulting in a significant amount of clattering and metallic ringing as they struck each other. She moved to hold Prei and Tate, grabbing their hands in hers. She turned to Iris, whose glowing green eyes held her gaze. When she saw the green orbs of light move up and down – Iris’ nodding – she quickly activated the <> again.
Knowing the sudden light would assail her eyes, Lily kept her eyes shut as she transferred from her world to the Wasteland again. The moment she felt the environment around her change, she began to count seconds in her mind. After ten seconds, confident that her vision had adjusted, she opened her eyes, quickly moving over to the stack of rods they had laid next to the pile of metal – of which about a quarter had been used – while continuing to count. Picking up another six rods, she again held out her right arm, allowing Tate and Prei to take it. She continued counting, and when she hit a hundred seconds, she activated the <> again.
Feeling the cold air of the forest upon her face, she allowed her eyes to adjust, then turned to the shining green eyes, a silent question implied in her manner. Iris’ reply came immediately.
“one hundred and twenty seconds exactly.”
Lily deposited the second batch of rods next to the first, then rubbed her chin thoughtfully, speaking to herself.
“I see. Discounting human error and transfer time, it’s probably safe to say that time in the Wasteland passes at an equal rate to time in this world.”
Lily placed a hand on the shoulder of the nearby Prei, causing the girl to look up into Lily’s eyes. In the darkness, the striking blue of her irises stood out even more than usual, and Lily had to force back an urge to sigh in marvel at their beauty.
“Prei, can you start working on a fire with Tate? I’ll probably only need one more trip.”
Prei quickly nodded her assent. Lily stood up and made sure nobody was holding on to her, then entered the Wasteland one more time, alone. She walked over to the pile of metal they had created from the remains of the Warden and placed one hand on it. So much raw material was left over, her inner artisan veritably salivated at the opportunities. With so many samples left over, it would not have been impossible for Lily to research a method of replicating this strong yet flexible metal. Still, that could wait. She picked up the last of the pile of metal rods and quickly returned to Iris’ side.
When she returned, Prei had already started a fire with her magic and Tate had left to search for firewood. Worried about Tate venturing off alone, Lily focused and performed a maximum range <>, relieved to find that the large Tate-shaped space of nothingness in her detection radius had not gone too far. She gave a meaningful look to Iris and pointed in Tate’s general direction. Iris briefly nodded, then got up off the rock upon which she had been perched and ran off to accompany Tate. Meanwhile, Lily sat herself down next to the fire, an act which prompted the nearby Prei to brazenly lay her head on Lily’s lap. Lily indulged in stroking her daughter’s head, smiling whenever her attentions elicited a contented sigh.
While she pampered her daughter, her mind began to think, considering the next action she would need to take. With all the metal rods prepared, the skeleton of the house was ready. The next step after planting the rods in the ground would be to build pillars of support around them using mortar. The step after that would be constructing the walls with bricks, and then building a rooftop, probably using ceramic.
Mortar, bricks and treated ceramic. All were items that could not be obtained from the forest around them. These were the products of civilisation, and the influence of civilisation did not extend to the forest. She thought back to the village she had seen en route to Azoria. She recalled the scene of the organised military encampment that Azoria had turned into. She clenched her jaw, teeth grinding against each other, fueled by anger. She felt her head getting hotter, more emotional. She saw visions of herself tearing through the encampment.
Then she felt Prei shift in her lap, adjusting her position to snuggle against Lily’s abdomen more comfortably. The girl’s delighted face brought Lily back to the present, causing Lily to relax her jaw. Beating back her irrational anger, Lily forced herself to look at the situation objectively. If the demons were civilised enough to have an organised military and fully functional villages, it was likely they would possess the materials Lily required. Such a level of civilisation would also mean that they had likely already developed the notion of commerce. Therefore, if Lily was to try and obtain the materials she needed for her intended home, her only option would be to do business with the demons that had taken over her homeland.
The thought of establishing cordial relations with the creatures that had stolen away her home left a bitter taste in her mouth. She felt like it would border on a form of betrayal. She briefly toyed with the idea of simply destroying the village and forcefully taking what she needed. Surely, it would be a simple matter, given her party’s level of firepower… But no, that was a short-term solution. Ultimately, even after the house was finished, Lily’s small family would require clothes, tools, raw materials. They would require goods that could only be found in civilised lands. Looking to the future, establishing good trade relations with the demons was essential if they intended to live a peaceful life in this land.
Yet, despite understanding the importance of establishing trade relations with the demons, Lily could not rid her mind of the guilt she felt from considering the possibility of living in harmony with those who had taken her home away from her. If the other survivors from Azoria knew, they would certainly condemn her as a traitor. She cupped her face and groaned in frustration, prompting Prei to look up at her, concerned. Lily hurriedly resumed stroking Prei’s head, giving her a reassuring smile. Prei frowned, unconvinced, but closed her eyes again and snuggled up closer against Lily. As she did so, Iris and Tate emerged from the depths of the forest, chatting leisurely, their arms filled with firewood. As Lily watched them approach, Iris noticed her gaze and met eyes with her, lips turning up in a peaceful smile that radiated a gentle warmth.
That warmth burned away Lily’s doubts. Her deep anger and grief over the loss of her home rapidly dissipated. The gnawing guilt that ate away at her resolve was instantly banished. Even if the world thought her a traitor, the sum of its opinions was worth less than the opinion of the girl in front of her. The sum of the world’s inhabitants was worth less than the existence of the girl in front of her. Lily made her decision.
If it meant that Iris would continue to bear that peaceful smile, Lily was more than willing to betray the world.